Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Content in Kent - The Garden of England Day 2 (of 3)

Day two of my trip to south east England saw me visit four vineyards and ended with an apple crumble. All will become clear.

I started the day with an appointment to meet Sheryl, Sales Executive of Hush Heath Estate at 10.30am. Of all the vineyards I contacted to visit Sheryl was the only one to phone me directly to confirm an appointment, for which I thank you. Looking at the website I was sure I was it would be an enjoyable morning and so it proved. For a start, it was the only time during my three days in the south where the rain stopped for long enough for me to enjoy a walk in the vines.

The journey from Rye took around 40 minutes and found me fairly deeply in the Kent countryside, a few miles from Staplehurst. I say this now, having looked at a map. As with most people these days I was relying entirely on my sat-nav and when this deposited me on a typical country lane with no sign of a winery. No matter the winery was just a few hundred yards further down the road.

I was bang on time for my appointment but took the opportunity to snap a few pictures in the car park. The reception area at Hush Heath is a joy. Beautifully appointed with all of their products, including still wines, sparkling wines, cider and juices neatly displayed along with a variety of branded goodies to promote the Hush Heath name.
Arriving at the fabulous Hush Heath Estate

Cheryl was waiting to meet me. She inquired of my available time and when I said I had an hour offered to take me out in her car to see the vines. I should explain that the vines are some distance from the winery. If you visit be aware that the walking tour of the vines can take around 90 minutes (At other vineyards it will be much shorter) and dogs and buggies are not permitted.

In my journey around the estate we passed by the gorgeous Hush Heath Manor. Built in 1503 it was in some disrepair when purchased by the Balfour-Lynn family in the 1980s. Today it is the gorgeous flagship of a stunning estate producing sensational wines, cider and apple juices. I understand it was Richard, head of the family, that wished to produce the best sparkling wine possible, especially rosé, and boy have they achieved that.

My tour complete I had a full tasting of the full range of Hush Heath produce. For me two products were outstanding; the Balfour Brut Rosé 2010, a hauntingly beautiful sparkler that really is one of the best English Sparkling rosé's around and has the awards to prove it. Sparkling red wines tend to be an Australian specialty but the Balfour 1503 Sparkling Pinot Noir surpasses the ones's that I have tried. For some sparkling red is an acquired taste but I love it. A bottle of each was purchased and a big thank you to Cheryl for taking time to show me around the estate.

I cannot leave Hush Heath without mentioning my meeting with Cathy and Stefan in the vineyards. This husband and wife team are the second generation to work on this land and their passion for the vines really showed. Cathy spoke with such knowledge and understanding of viticulture it is no wonder the wines are so sensational. The vines and orchards are in good and safe hands. I even persuaded them to pose together for a photo for me which Cheryl explained was a real rarity. I have already emailed it over but here it is again.
Cathy and Stefan from Hush Heath
 On leaving Hush Heath I just about had an enough time for a panini for lunch at Kino in Hawkhurst before hurrying to meet Ben at the Oxney Organic Estate. I think it would be fair to say that we are talking about potential for this vineyard. A large estate with recently planted vines (2012) that have only produced one vintage of still rosé wine (2014) so far.

The 850 acres of the estate comprises much farmland, woodlands as well as the vineyards. Organic methods are used throughout and the vineyard is the fourth largest organic vineyard in England. On my arrival the rain had started hammering down again so Ben and myself spent time chatting in the very neat and tidy winery. It has been build by converting an old oasthouse, which are all over Kent, and was built with small vessels to allow for experimenting with small batches of grapes. Too early to say much more at this stage but definitely a winery to watch for the future. A big thank you to Ben for coming in out the rain to show me around and to owner Kristin Syltevik for allowing me to visit.

Ben in the winery of Oxney Organic Estate

In the afternoon I made two further visits to vineyards, which to be honest were rather disappointing. Sedlescombe Organic Vineyard seems to be slightly rebellious as it has no association with the English Wine Producers, the body that most vineyards belong too. I hadn't organised an appointment but noticed it on my route. Owner Roy Cook styles himself the godfather of organic viticulture has been making wine here for over 30 years and I happy to acknowledge pioneers. But.....

The tasting room was rather ramshackle and dated. I was invited to conduct a tasting of their wines for £5. They are currently trumpeting an award for the Sedlescombe 2011 Regent, the first international recognition for an English red wine. They are also happy to declare it England's most expensive red wine at £49.50 a bottle. WHAT? I hear you cry. Yeah, I know I thought it too. And frankly it's not even that great. Sorry, I can only say what I think. No-one in their right mind would pay such a price for this wine. The international award was an obscure one, which garnered much publicity at the time, which is great but there are many better vineyards around. The other wines I tasted were okay but nothing special. I would have left disappointed but for the fact that I got a great photo of Sonia and Pauline who were also enjoying a tasting.
Sonia and Pauline - Cheers ladies!
If Sedlescombe was a disappointment then Carr Taylor Vineyards was even more so. The winemaking here dates from 1971. On my arrival the rain was now hosing down in biblical proportions. A walk around the vines was out of the question.

I ventured inside the tasting area which was tired and dated. The walls have some pictures of David Carr pouring sparkling wine near the Arc de Triomphe with Frenchman looking on in shock and awe. They date from the mid 1980s, possibly earlier. The style of the labels probably also date from that era. All of their wines are made from German cross varieties, popular in the early days of English wine making. No attempt to grow the three noble Champagne varieties has been started.

One of the white wines is called Cannonball. No, really it is. I felt so sad because this vineyard was once clearly cutting edge. I had a cursory tasting of the bland, boring wines and left immediately, having stayed less than 5 minutes. As I left a family of Chinese origin came in. I really wanted to shout "go somewhere else, this isn't English wine anymore"

I really hate having to be critical because I love English wine and want it to go from strength to strength but these two vineyards left me as sad as the inglorious English weather we were getting. I made a brief visit to Hastings which was horrible in the rain, but at least I finally got a new coat to protect me from that rain.

Fortunately I would be perked up the next morning when I met an owner of a vineyard. Meeting Graham Barbour of Woodchurch Wine was fantastic and I will tell you all about it my next blog (part 3).

I mentioned at the start, if you can remember that far back, about the ending with apple crumble. That ending was a few days later when the three glorious Bramley apples that I was given at Hush Heath were baked. And absolutely delicious it was too though I'd still much rather be drinking the fabulous rosé fizz from the estate.

See you next time. In the meantime enjoy your wine. Details of my wine tasting events business can be found at www.gloryofwine.com.